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Crowds take in Jefferson County Dairy Festival in Watertown

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WATERTOWN — Amidst a rush for ice cream at the Jefferson County Dairy Festival on Friday afternoon, there was time for memories for Rena M. Fields.

Ms. Fields, a former dairy farmer who has held multiple festival positions, judged countless dairy cow competitions and milked endless cows, estimated she has been a part of the festival for 40 years. After decades of supporting the festival, Ms. Fields on Friday night got to be the festival parade’s Grand Marshal.

“I’m a jack of all trades,” she said.

One of her favorite memories was dressing up in dairy-themed costumes, such as a cow, a giant glass of milk or a foam block of Swiss cheese, to lead the parade. The cheese costume nearly caused some serious problems, she said, when a child attacked her costume in an attempt to knock off a toy rat that was a part of the outfit.

“He almost tipped me over,” Ms. Fields said.

Though she got out of farming in 2007, Ms. Fields said she missed working with cows, even though it required a dedicated work schedule.

“It’s a 365-day-a-year job, 24 hours a day,” she said. “You always have to be on call.”

Dairy farming is a big part of the county’s identity, Ms. Fields said, and added that she was excited to see dairy producers in the region succeed.

“We are very resilient,” she said.

That trend of dairy success goes for the state as a whole. New York in the past year has increased its dairy production, becoming the third largest milk producer in the country. It ranks first nationally in yogurt production, with 741 million pounds made in 2013, along with cream cheese and cottage cheese creation.

Prior to the parade, organizers showed off and gave samples of a large ice cream sundae at the Dulles State Office Building, 317 Washington St., made with 24 gallons of ice cream, 10 quarts of chocolate syrup, 4 pounds of cherries, and 10 large cans of whipped cream. It may not be the largest ice cream sundae made for the festival, but that didn’t appear to be a problem for the dozens that enjoyed a sample prior to the start of the parade.

Earlier in the day, students from across the county had a chance to learn more about agriculture production and history.

Jennifer J. Dindl-Neff, who helped organize the event with the Jefferson County Dairy Promotion Board, said about 900 children visited during the morning session, which also featured multiple animal displays.

Among the highlights of the morning portion of the festival was an increase in dairy food and drink-related vendors, who supplied crowds with free samples of yogurt, cheese and milkshakes. The event also highlighted other elements of the county’s agriculture, such as a recent surge in soy production.

The evening parade attracted hundreds of people along Washington Street.

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